Its shape is perfect: the elegant fly yellow curves flow into one another with such smooth synchronicity that sometimes I just sit there and look at it - a piece of modern sculpture. From the 72-spoke wire wheels to the leather strap across the bonnet, this is a car you wear when you drive it. This is a Morgan.
To the cognoscenti, the beautifully rounded chrome radiator grill immediately distinguishes it from its flat-grilled cousins, the MG-TC, TD and TF that the uninitiated often confuse the Morgan with, but in terms of pure performance and "sportifness", there is just no comparison.
Although there are only three models to choose from, the Plus 4 with a Triumph TR-3 engine, the 4/4 with a Ford Cortina engine and the Plus 8 with an aluminum Rover V-8, with all three you'll need a termite protection plan, because this is the only automobile still made with a wooden frame and plywood floorboards.
I had flirted with buying a Morgan once before, in 1971, just after my graduation from college. Pooling together some money from the three different jobs I held while finishing school and from the sale of a Rover 2000TC that had nearly disintegrated from the harsh New England winters, I visited the Elm Street Horseless Carriage Company in Charlestown, run by a former Harvard doctor who specialized in buying and selling classic sports cars.
There, a beautiful 1962 drophead coupe caught my eye, but a dark-haired California girl had previously captured my affections and she voted for a faded red 1965 Porsche 356 Cabriolet. Both relationships turned out to be remarkably short-lived -- and both broke my heart.
However, in 1979, flush with cash from the sale of a B-movie script, I spotted a yellow Morgan sitting on a used car lot in Santa Monica. The car smiled at me and I did more than smile back. I stopped and made an offer and I've had the car ever since.
I paid $2200 in cash for my Morgan. Seventeen years later, I've been assured my car would bring between $13,000 and $15,000 as is, and maybe as much as $22,000 - ten times my original investment - if I spruced it up a little.
But you don't buy a Morgan for its capital appreciation. You buy it because it drives like no other car in the world - when it drives. Sure, there are faster sportscars; cars that don't creak and rattle and groan over imperfections in the road. But there are few cars you can actually feel hunker down and come alive when they hit their stride.
I guess automobiles have been in my family's blood for several generations - ever since Grandpa Mike - my father's father - owned one of the first automobiles in Winnipeg, Canada - a Stanley Steamer. One day he decided to figure out how his car worked, so he took it apart. When he finished putting it back together, there were three parts left over. The car, however, ran like a top.
Later on, Grandpa Mike also owned two Stutz Bearcats, two Will St. Claires (both stolen) and a LaSalle.
My father, too, was a car aficionado. Growing up, the first family car I can remember was a black 1953 Buick Roadmaster convertible followed by a beautiful silver grey 1954 Olds convertible with red leather upholstery. Then in 1955, my father took delivery of the very first T-Bird on the East Coast, a stunning black 2-seater with wire wheels, a Continental mount and snazzy black and white genuine leather upholstery.
Unfortunately, my father's enthusiasm for the car was short-lived. The roof leaked incessantly, despite the best efforts of the local Ford dealer to fix it and this, coupled with a series of other small annoyances, caused my father to write a series of searing letters to the head of the Ford Motor Co. - maybe even Henry himself - and in 1959 Ford capitulated, offering my father a brand new 1960 4-seater T-Bird free of charge - if he would just stop writing them and, of course, he needed to turn in his '55.
Even though I was only 10 at the time, I argued long and bitterly for the '55 to remain in the family. I said it was destined to become a classic, that a little leak was a small inconvenience to pay for such beauty and - most of all - I had been counting on driving the car when I turned sixteen. "Wear a raincoat," I suggested. But one morning in late 1959, a FoMoCo representative pulled up in front of our driveway in a boxy, metallic gold 4-seater T-bird and drove away with "my" classic black 2-seater.
My father's luck with cars changed irrevocably after that. He even ended up buying a Corvair in 1964, just before the Mustang was introduced to America and Ford had another classic hit on its hands while we had one of the all-time clunkers.
Owning and driving a Morgan takes you back to another era: motoring. Owning and driving a Morgan labels you: a bit of a rebel. And owning and driving a Morgan can take you on a journey to another dimension when it comes time for servicing. Because there are only two authorized dealers in the country, Isis Motors in San Francisco and Cantab Motors in Virginia, and parts are exceedingly hard to come by. Of course, there is a fellow in England - Melvyn Rutter is his name - but unless you're extremely handy with a wrench, you'll still need a good mechanic.
I thought I had found an excellent one in Christopher Lawrence, a soft-spoken Englishman who raced Morgans for nearly a decade. When I first met him, he had just arrived from London as the personal mechanic of a California multi-millionaire with an extensive car collection. Servicing British sports cars as a sideline, first in a rather spotless facility in Costa Mesa, then later in a series of increasingly smaller garages in downtown LA, Lawrence always seemed like a little bit of a lost soul in the City of Angels.
Luckily, my car was not in his shop a couple of years ago when reportedly he sold all the Morgans that were and disappeared back to England. Truth or merely a new Morgan urban legend? I don't know. But I do know that his departure left me without a mechanic and I have made some difficult forays into finding a new service guru since he's been gone.
My latest servicing saga has to do with the dreaded "Morgan death rattle". This affliction occurs at a certain speed - in my case 45 mph - whereby the car begins to buck and shake severely, threatening to come apart at the joints.
After calling around to a number of sources, I found a restoration shop just north of San Diego that claimed to have the remedy. So down the Interstate 5 my car was trailered with explicit instructions to my newest mechanic to make the eradication of the "death rattle" his highest priority.
A month later, the mechanic called and assured me my car had been cured. I drove down to San Marcos with a friend who had volunteered to follow me back up to LA - just in case. No sooner had we pulled onto Route 78, than my beautiful yellow Morgan started shaking and bucking all over again.
As of this writing, the "death rattle" still lives and the cure is still unknown...
Sometimes when I get fed up with the frustrations of servicing and parts and finding an honest mechanic, I begin to think seriously about selling my car and then I hear the words of my seven year-old son - "Dad, take me for a drive in the Yellow Morgan" - and I think of a ten year old boy watching a black 1955 T-Bird disappear down the driveway and I am determined not to make the same mistake.